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Espoir City Runs away with Japan Cup Dirt

By Tom Krish | 10 Dec 2009 |

Trainer Steve Asmussen

Trainer Steve Asmussen has an addiction. He likes setting new marks. He likes it better when he breaks those records. On December 6 at Woodbine in Toronto, Poppin, from Asmussen’s yard, won a claiming race. Poppin took Asmussen’s number of winners this year to 623. In 2008, trainer Asmussen saddled 622 winners.

In 2009, Asmussen became the fifth trainer in history to reach 5,000 wins. This milestone was reached at Woodbine on September 11. Here are some numbers that make for interesting reading. At the end of December 6, 2009, Asmussen had won 5,163 races with 24,425 starters. His prize money stood at $153,360,192. That is 153 million dollars. His cut is ten percent. Asmussen has won 68 stakes this year.

In 2007, Asmussen had 488 wins. In 2008, it was 622. In 2009, it is 623 and there is time left.

Summer Bird has had surgery to repair a non-displaced fracture of the right fore cannon. The multiple Grade I winner is expected to race in 2010. Summer Bird went to Japan to race in the Japan Cup (dirt) and was hurt during a workout.

Tim Ice, Summer Bird’s trainer, explained. “He should make a full recovery. There was, fortunately, no cartilage damage. They inserted one screw and it went in with no problem and fit like a glove.”

At Hanshin Racecourse in Japan, the 2009 World Super Jockeys’ Series was held last weekend. Norihiro Yokoyama of Japan won the competition with 47 points. Douglas Whyte of Hong Kong was second with 38 points. Ryan Moore (Great Britain) was third with 37 points. The other riders who took part were Garrett Gomez, Mick Kinane, Craig Williams, Christophe Lemaire, Ioritz Mendizabal, Calvin Borel and Yutaka Take. A win was worth 20 points. A second place earned 15 points. A third got you 13 points and so on.

Jockey Yokoyama spoke: “It was fun. I’m glad to be number one. We, jockeys are like-minded no matter where we’re from. This will give me a boost.”

Doug Whyte, perennial Hong Kong champion, said, “I was grateful for the invitation. It was a wonderful experience to race with other talented jockeys.”

Ryan Moore expressed his feelings: “It was a great weekend. I would like to keep my record so I can be here next year.”

I was half asleep and the time was 15 minutes past midnight (early last Sunday) in Chicago. My wife was watching a comedy, Post time was approaching for the Japan (dirt) Cup at Hanshin. I had asked her (she generally does) to remind me about the Japan Cup. As my luck would have it, she remembered and gave a gentle tap on my shoulder. I sat up and she changed the TV Channel.

Espoir City, marginally favoured over Vermilion, had the fence. The rider was the 39 year-old Tetsuzo Sato. Tizway, the only American runner, showed out early as the 16-runner field was let go. Jockey Sato did not let two moments pass before he took charge with Espoir City in the three million-dollar event. In the lane, Espoir City kept widening the margin. The Japan Cup turned out to be a procession. Espoir City won by three and one half lengths in a time of 1 49.9 seconds over 1,800 metres on a right-handed course. Silk Mobius was second. Golden Ticket, with Christophe Lemaire, salvaged third. Vermilion was held up and did not get close enough to deliver a blow and finished eighth.

By Gold Allure out of Eminent City, Espoir City has now won nine races from 17 starts. There is about four million dollars in his account. Espoir City was winning his fourth consecutive race. Akio Adachi trains Espoir City for the Yushun Horse Ownership Team. The Japan Cup was the first Group I success for Espoir City.

Jockey Sato thought aloud: “I was a little concerned about the horse (Tizway) from overseas. I decided to get the lead only after we left the gates. My horse ran a heck of a race. He settled perfectly. I had all the faith in the world he would travel well. I did not look back when we turned for home. I knew we would not lose with the kind of race we were running.”

Damien Oliver had his 30-day ban overturned on appeal. Last Saturday, the Australian ace won the Group I Kingston Town Classic with Sniper’s Bullet at Ascot in Perth. It was the third Grade I win for Sniper’s Bullet, a six year-old. The winning margin was a length and three quarters. The time was 1 46.96 for the 1800-metre race. Sniper’s Bullet had a wide draw but jockey Oliver was able to sprint early and take a forward position with the 9-2 chance. Sniper’s Bullet took the lead at the top of the homestretch and went to win with a measure of comfort. Nash Rawiller won the Railway Stakes with Sniper’s Bullet. Craig Williams was aboard when Sniper’s Bullet took the Stradbroke Stakes. Now, Damien Oliver made it three Group I wins for Sniper’s Bullet.

Tracey Bartley, the winning trainer, was delighted. “It is a whole new ballgame now. We can now think about longer races. Oliver was adamant we could run 2000. The Dubai Duty Free is an option.”

Pyro has been retired. A son of Pulpit, Pyro was a fancied runner in the 2008 Derby. He won or placed in 12 of 17 outings for earnings of $1,673,673. In 2009, Pyro won Saratoga’s Forego Stakes and will now head to Japan where he will stand at the Darley Stud for a fee of 22,100 dollars.

Joining Pyro will be Commands, a son of Danehill, a prominent stallion in Australia. Commands will command a $55,200 fee. Deep Sky, a son of the deceased Agnes Tachyon, will also be at Darley in Japan and his fee will be $38,600. Deep Sky was the sophomore champion in Japan when he won the Japanese Derby.

John Shirreffs is having an exceptional year. Zardana won the Grade II (1,700 metres on cushion track) Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park on December 5. The time was 1 42.24 and the five year-old Zardana, a Brazilian-bred, won by a length and a quarter. Victor Espinoza rode the 11-1 Zardana. Crimson Tide is Zardana’s sire. Dear Filly is the dam who is by Southern Halo. Here is the twist. Saturday afternoon, in American College Football, Florida, America’s premier team, was getting a thrashing and it was Alabama that was teaching Florida some valuable football lessons. What is Alabama’s moniker? It is Crimson Tide.

Jockey Espinoza spoke about his ride: “I got kind of lucky the way the race set up for me. She really relaxed. I tried not to fight her so she could do her own thing.”

Do you remember Cloudy’s Knight? The nine year-old lost the Breeders’ Cup Marathon by the proverbial whisker to Man of Iron in early November at Santa Anita. The Jonathan Sheppard pupil was the favorite in the 2800-metre $145,000 Valedictory Stakes on Woodbine’s polytrack. Cloudy’s Knight had won the Grade I Canadian International on the grass course at Woodbine.

Jockey Rosemary Homeister, Jr was aboard the Lord Avie gelding in the Valedictory Stakes. The fans made Cloudy’s Night the favourite. Turning for home, Cloudy’s Knight had a long lead and seemed to be coasting home. Midway down the lane, Cloudy’s Knight was headed and was in danger. Now, we will pick up what jockey Rosemary said, “He does not want to get beat. That was all horse the last quarter of a mile. He’s just a game aggressive horse.”

If you guessed that Cloudy’s Knight fought back and got the verdict, you are absolutely right.

The Arkansas Derby will now be a Grade I race. The American Graded Stakes Committee has made several changes. The Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Alfred G Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga will now be Grade I events. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the BC Turf Sprint now have Grade II Status. The Sunland Park Derby, a race in which Mine That Bird placed fourth before winning the Kentucky Derby, has now been given Grade III status. The Citation Handicap at Hollywood Park, the Frank J De Francis Memorial Dash Stakes at Laurel, the Go For Wand at Saratoga, the John C Mabee Stakes at Del Mar and the Santa Maria Handicap at Santa Anita have been downgraded from Grade I to II rank.

At Happy Valley in Hong Kong, the jockeys’ championship was held on Wednesday. John Murtagh, Christophe Lemaire and Ryan Moore shared the honours. Lemaire will miss the big day in Hong Kong on December 13. He received a ban for an infraction in Japan. Sha Tin hosts four Group I races this Sunday. All this and more in the next report.

The news about Suraj Narredu winning the Mauritius tournament is extremely heartening. He is one of India’s best and he has brought honour and recognition to India. He has every reason to be proud.

My wife and I leave for India on December 15. It is a trip that is a source of undiminishing excitement. On December 17, I have to check who is racing.